I own a Lodge 12 inch cast iron pan; a pre-seasoned model. It works amazingly well, especially if you use a little oil in your cooking. The claim that it is as good as a non-stick Teflon pan is inaccurate – something you will quickly discover if you try to fry an egg without any oil or butter. But if you use say, half a tablespoon of fat, it does a great job without any sticking. I like it because it gets hot fast, distributes heat very evenly, and has no nasty chemical coating to peel off.
Cast iron pans are extremely versatile. You can fry, boil, or bake in them. Deep dish pizza in a cast iron pan is terrific. Meat can be seared on the stove and the pan goes directly into the oven for finishing.
Cleaning cast iron pans is subject to much myth; the prevailing wisdom being that you should never wash one with soapy water as it will remove the accumulated carbon that provides its non-stick capabilities. One is supposed to clean the pan only with coarse salt for abrasion (to remove any stuck-on bits) and a paper towel, rinsing it in water (optional), and then re-coating it with a fine film of vegetable oil.
In my experience, this protocol is largely myth, perhaps intended to attribute a unique ritual and magical elements to what is an otherwise plebeian tool. Or maybe it’s intended to hark back to the simpler time of cowboys gathered around the fire after a long day’s roundup, with Cookie slopping out beans from the trusted cast iron pan which served to cook food as well as kill varmints.
The problem with not washing the pan with soap and water is quite simple: It stinks. Whatever you cook will always taste of what you cooked in the pan the last time…and the time before that. If you fry fish one day and meat the next, the result is particularly unpleasant. Not to mention that any oils left in the pan will go rancid within a day or so, once again affecting the flavour of your food.
My own protocol is fairly simple: I soak the pan for a few minutes in warm water, throw in some Dawn, scrub it with a two-sided scrub pad, wipe it dry and smear a very fine layer of grapeseed oil on it (I also make sure to use the pan daily, before the oil goes bad). Works great.
Caveat: I did buy the pre-seasoned model which seems to have very resistant baked on anti-rust properties. It cost about $35 – dirt cheap in my books. The unseasoned versions can be had for as little as $10, but I can’t vouch for them with my protocol. Good luck.